Safari: Background windows that won’t stay in the background

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 21st, 2005 • 2:06 pm

This is an on-going problem that has been affecting all versions of Safari since the very beginning. It goes like this: You start loading a web page in a given Safari window, and then switch to another window while the page is loading.

At some point during the background loading process, however, something causes the window to come back to the foreground, even though you never asked Safari to bring it to the foreground.

It’s very irritating, especially if you are a multi-tasking kind of person who likes to work on several things at the same time (or has to work on several things at the same time, as is the case with people on dial-up connections like me, who would otherwise go insane from the amount of waiting that they would have to go through).

The problem is simple: a background window should never, ever come to the foreground unless the user specifically wants it to do so. The most it should be able to do is give out some kind of signal calling for the user’s attention, like background processes occasionally do in Mac OS X. But it should never push its way to the foreground while the user is doing something else!

I do not know what it is that causes this. It’s probably something in the code of the pages — but ultimately it’s something that Safari should be able to deal with and control, so that these pages don’t interfere with what the user is trying to do.

I have noticed this problem with a variety of sites, but the ones that come to mind as a typical example are the Amazon web sites (,, etc.). They typically contain a lot of small picture files that take a while to load on a modem connection, and so the dial-up user is prone to switching to something else while the page is loading.

The problem affects multi-tasking both within Safari and in Mac OS X in general. If you are browsing several sites at the same time and the Amazon web page is loading in a background window in Safari, that window might suddenly come to the foreground on its own.

If you have Safari itself (the application) in the background and are working in the Finder, for example, with several Finder windows open, only one of the Finder window is the foreground window at any given time. All the other Finder windows are in the background in the Finder. The problem is that the window with the Amazon web site in Safari might suddenly, not come to the foreground (Safari is not able to bring itself to the foreground), but come in the foreground of the background, i.e. on top of the Finder windows that are currently in the background in the Finder.

This is intensely irritating if you are doing something in the Finder that involves more than one window. What is this Safari window that thinks it can interfere with what I am doing in the Finder? This is insane.

Of course, I am sure that high-speed Internet users do not notice the problem as much, because for them most web sites load immediately in Safari. But it’s definitely a major problem for multi-tasking dial-up users such as myself. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that some really fast multi-tasking Mac OS X users with high-speed connections are experiencing the problem as well.

Whatever the source of the problem is, Apple really has to do something about it. It just flies in the face of what should be a well-behaved user interface.

2 Responses to “Safari: Background windows that won’t stay in the background”

  1. ssp says:

    I haven’t noticed Safari as being particularly bad here but I’m usually on internet connections that are fast or very fast (and I’m only using a single Safari window at most times and I am using PithHelmet which might play a role as well).

    However, I think the problem you describe can be seen throughout the OS. OSX just isn’t particularly good at keeping applications in the background. E.g. when launching a number of applications simultaneously you can’t really try to do anything that requires keyboard focus in another application when trying to pass the time needed to launch those apps. (Again a ‘feature’ that’s probably more noticeable on slow computers, I guess, but one that hints that OSX isn’t all that briliiant in this area.)

  2. LoonyPandora says:

    I also find it annoying – There are two causes that I have found.

    First cause is by site-authors putting in some javascript to make there windows come to the front automatically. I agree Safari should have an option to disable this – along with other scripts that move windows around screen (such as sites that insist on making their windows ‘fullscreen’)

    Second cause is actually useful, it occurs when you get a javascript popup, it brings the page that called the popup to the front, so it is obvious it is that page generating the popup. This was a fix for a security issue a while back.

    You may want to look into OmniWeb as an alternative to Safari, as it includes options to prevent sites taking control of your windows. It’s not to my tastes, but it’s worth looking at :)

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